UP4B: A new hope for Papuans?

Budi Hernawan, Canberra | Wed, 03/30/2011 9:15 AM/ Jakarta Post

During his recent visit to Australia, Vice President Boediono told the media that he had been mandated by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to formulate a draft of a presidential decree to address more comprehensively questions regarding Papua.According to the draft, the government will form a delivery unit called the Unit Percepatan Pembangunan Papua dan Papua Barat (UP4B/ Special Unit for the Acceleration of Development in Papua and West Papua) to deal with problems in Papua.

What can we learn about the process of drafting this decree? First, the slow and long process might indicate the complexity and delicacy of the situation in both provinces, which requires consultation with many Papuans. Second, this may reflect the disagreements among different government institutions in how to deal with Papuans. Third, Papua and Jakarta are not a single entity. Both consist of a number, if not many, actors representing both places. Finally, it might indicate a stalemate in dealing with the two Papuan provinces.

Based on these four possibilities, I would argue that it is far too simplistic to view the problems in Papua as polarized, that is, Papua vs Jakarta, independence vs the unitary state of Indonesia, dialogue vs special autonomy, etc. If we follow what has happened in Papua in the last 10 months, there is a spectrum of political aspirations, from demands for independence, referendum, dialogue, a review of special autonomy, the implementation of special autonomy as well as inexpressible voices. With the exception of those unheard voices, each perspective by and large has organized representatives to articulate concerns and political stances.

In a similar vein, although government agencies are united when it comes to aspirations for Papuan independence, they may apply different approaches. One institution might be genuinely receptive to the idea of dialogue as promoted by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences and the Papua Peace Network. Another agency might want to continue the strategy of surveillance of the Papuan community. An agency might stick to the idea of economic growth and welfare as the best solution, while another may prefer the formation of new regencies to secure power at the local level.

The multifaceted elements in the so-called Papua and Jakarta rivalry may lead us to appreciate not only the complexity of the problem but more importantly, the hopes that various elements have expressed. Hopes for peace, justice and conflict resolution have been repeatedly articulated by many actors in both Jakarta and Papua. This means that there is a common ground in the desire for peace. The question is how to translate this hope into reality.

There is no magical spell for this and I do not pretend to have an answer either. I would rather go back and reflect on the idea of UP4B. No doubt this proposition is still fragile and begs a more detailed explanation.

On Jakarta’s side, the shocking experience of the encounter between the “100 team” of Papuan leaders and then president B.J. Habibie, which led to the division of Papua, remains unforgettable. Although Indonesia successfully achieved a peace agreement in Aceh, such an extremely difficult and lengthy process cannot be directly extrapolated to Papua.

The special autonomy package, with the dramatic increase of funds, has met with strong opposition from Papuans. The emergence of Indonesia as the third largest democracy has put pressure on the Indonesian government to comply with democratic principles and the rule of law. Therefore, the combination of these factors has generated ambivalence and indecisiveness towards Papua.

On Papua’s side, it has learnt how it was betrayed when the Dutch, who initiated some preparations for an independent state in Papua, left without any notice. They then confronted a repressive regime in the New Order like every other part of Indonesia. Although special autonomy was granted in 2001 by the Megawati Soekarnoputri administration, it took only 13 months for the same administration to issue a controversial presidential decree to divide Papua into three provinces, which contradicted the special autonomy itself. When Papuans handed back special autonomy, the Indonesian government and the House of Representatives continued approving the formation of new regencies in Papua.

In this difficult situation brimming with distrust, both sides may consider being guided by an alternative approach of “principled engagement”, which offers a middle ground between isolation and the business-as-usual approaches. This means direct engagement with those responsible in decision-making processes, as well as other groups in society, to address concrete problems and improve the practical framework for a solution, particularly with human rights protection, as Kinley and Pederson wrote in a forthcoming work.

Both sides would need to take risks and listen to each other in what can only be painful processes. Both sides would need to genuinely respect the anxieties, fears and hopes present within one another and towards one another. Both sides would need to give up some of their positions to reach a compromise.

Based on these understandings, both sides will need to translate their shared hope for peace into a legal foundation such as the UP4B or any other document that both can commit to. No doubt this will be the hardest part given the complex nature of the players on both sides. After all, many peace initiatives do not succeed and can backfire.

However, if both sides can pass that critical stage, they may be able to establish a common ground to rebuild trust.

The writer is former director of the Office for Justice and Peace at the Catholic Church in Jayapura, Papua, and is currently a Ph.D. student at the Regulatory Institutions Network at the Australian National University.

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